Mum made most of our clothes when we were younger. I think originally because it was cheaper, more economical – but also because it was the thing to do back then. Now – it is kitsch to make your own clothes. Not neccesity anymore, sadly.
She would also knit us jumpers and things. I mainly remember her knitting for babies though – and I vaguely remember her attempting some socks for Dad. I never did see the finished product though, so I’m not sure what happened there. Did she finish them? Did Dad not like them? Or did she not make it to the end?
When I was about 8 or 9, we had been doing ‘french knitting’ at school – you know, where you have the toilet roll cardboard tube with paddle pop sticks around the top and you ‘knit’ great long columns of wool. At the same time, Mum was knitting something too. Her needles clicking away on the couch. I remember sitting next to her with my ‘knitting’ and wanting to be like her.
She offered to teach me her knitting. I jumped at the chance to learn grown-up knitting.
She got some needles and some wool, cast on a few stitches and worked a few rows for me. And then the lesson began.
“This is how my Mum taught me. First – you stab him.” She put the needle through the first loop. “Then you strangle him.” She wrapped the wool around her needle. “Then you push him off the cliff.” And she moved the loop off the needle – having just knitted one stitch.
I still now mouth these words while knitting: stab him, strangle him, push him off the cliff; stab him, strangle him, push him off the cliff. It has a nice rhythm to it, don’t you think?
Mum wasn’t always conventional in her lessons. Bless her.
We all know the saying: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.
When I was 5, and had just started school – I was being teased by the kids at school. I came home crying to Mum. She told me this saying and sent me to school the next day with these words as my protection.
At lunch, when the kids teased me, I shouted these words at their faces.
For a moment, there was shock – then laughter.
Then – they walked away.
Aha! I had done it! Those words really did protect me. I wasn’t teased again for a long time, and by then I had made some friends who could stand by side and protect me.
Of course, it’s not really about those particular words. It is just the need to stand up to those who threaten you – and to defend yourself by declaring yourself as present. I am here, and I will be heard.
Run it under the hot tap for a minute. Put a rubber band around the lid. Whack it a few times with a knife around the edge and break the seal.
But it is always a good thing to occasionally ask a man to help, as Mum would tell us.
I needed to do this the other night – I was flying home from a work trip interstate and asked for a wine from the drink trolley. I then struggled to open the damn thing. So I had to, reluctantly, ask the man next to me to open it for me. He beamed, and I think he felt a little needed at that point.
Maybe Mum is right. We really do need to occasionally ask a man to help. My experience on the plane also explains why the next line of this lesson was always: ‘it makes them feel better, love’.
As I was the fourth child – there was no room left for questions to avoid going to bed. Mum had already thought of an answer for everything.
‘Mum, I’m thirsty’.
‘Why do you think I made you have that drink before you went to bed? Go to sleep’.
‘But I’m not tired’.
‘You’re not getting out of bed. You will be tired eventually.’
‘It’s too light.’
‘It doesn’t matter. If you close your eyes, it will be dark.’
I still rememember my first library card.
We had always gone to the library – ever since I can remember. When we were younger, we lived across the road from the library and Mum was good friends with the librarian (we lived in a small town too). We would go to the library at least once a week. We had one library card – in Mum’s name, and all of us borrowed books together.
When I turned 10 (double-figures!), Mum said I could have my own library card. And I could go to the library BY MYSELF.
This was a freedom I had never known. The library to me held so much freedom already – all those books to choose from, and each one opening a door into a world so different to mine. I was reading so many books already, imagine if I had my own card!
Mum took me to the library and I signed the form for my own card. When it came out of the laminator, it was still warm. I put it in my pocket and smiled and smiled. I borrowed the maximum number of books and went home still smiling.
The next day I had read several books and asked if I could go to the library. Mum said yes, and called the library. The librarian came out the front, and watched me cross the road and took me by the hand into the library. Once I had borrowed more books, she did the same thing in reverse – called Mum and watched me cross the road.
That is the moment I really began to love books and libraries – a love that will be life-long.
When we were little, we often had trouble going to bed. Mum tried her best with a pretty solid bedtime routine. Dinner, quiet games only, and then bathtime. After a bath, Mum would brush our hair and read to us. Then it was time to go to bed.
This worked for a long time. But then we needed something more.
So Mum came up with Sleep Dust.
She had a little container on the mantle piece that was filled with what she called Sleep Dust. She would say that this was magic, and that Mr Sandman had given it to her to make us go to sleep and have wonderful dreams.
We would all line up before bed to get this Sleep Dust sprinkled over our eyes. Mum would oblige, and scatter the Sleep Dust over our eyes before putting us to bed. I remember falling asleep quickly so that I could see these wonderful, magic dreams.
As an adult, I think the container was an old pin tin and that it was empty. Mum would pretend to sprinkle something, but nothing was really there.
But also, as an adult, a little piece of me still wishes for that Sleep Dust and those magic dreams.
Each year around the start of December, Mum would spend the day with us tidying out our playroom and bedrooms. We would have 3 big containers (most of the time these were Mum’s big washing baskets) – and each one would be labelled with a piece of paper: Keep, Donate, Throw-Away.
She would sit next to the baskets, and we would pick up one item at a time and make The Decision.
Is it broken? = Throw-Away
When did I last play with it? = Donate
Would another child like this more than me? = Donate
Mum wouldn’t make The Decision for us. She would simply ask us these questions – guiding us to the right decision. The Donate basket was always the biggest basket in the end.
We did this every year. It was only after we had donated our toys, that Santa would come and bring us new ones (if we had been good, of course).
When there were 3 of us left at home, Mum made a roster and stuck it to the fridge. There were three different jobs:
– dry up and put away
– clear and stack
This roster lasted us many years. We hoped for Clear and Stack – the easiest job. We hated Dry Up and Put Away – it took the longest.
But as Mum always said, the best conversations happen while you’re doing another chore.
So each night, two of us were forced to spend time together in the kitchen. And although it is only now we admit it, we had our best conversations. I remember helping my little brother with his love life and my little sister with a bullying teacher. I remember them making me laugh when I was stressed out about exams.
Mum would pretend to be watching TV, but really she would be listening and smiling on the inside.
It was exactly what we all needed.
For a long while there, Mum would drive my little brother to and from his job (he had lost his licence after a string of bad decisions). Considering where they were living at the time, this was a considerable effort – a round-trip of well over an hour, and about 80km in distance.
But each afternoon, Mum would bring him a surprise. They called this a ‘surprise’ every day – yet the result never differed: A can of coke, and a Mars Bar.
To my Mum these drives together meant that she could hear about his day, and his work and about his plans. She could ask questions and because he was stuck in the car for 40km, he had no choice but to answer and to talk. Mum always said that the best conversations happen when there is common task being shared – like doing the dishes, or in this case, while driving together in a car.
I think this time they shared together brought them much closer – and while others thought Mum was rewarding his bad behaviour by offering him a solution to a problem he caused, I think Mum saw this as an opporuntity to help heal my brother. To care for him in a safe, arms-length way – from across the car as they drove twice a day together, for many, many months. If it hadn’t been for this action from my Mum – my brother would have lost his job and who knows what would have come next. Mum knew this was the best way to keep him on the right path but did it in a way that meant he wasn’t aware of the control she was still exerting over his life, nor was he aware how much he was talking to Mum as they drove.
I have no doubt that this drive, and the ‘surprise’ they shared each day, saved my brother.
Years later, and even now, when my brother asks us to bring him a surprise – we know what we need to buy.
‘Mum – what does enigma mean?’
‘Look it up. The dictionaries are in the bookcase. Remember to…’
‘I know, I know. Read the word above and the word below. Learn three words instead of one.’
Mum had a love of words. She would read the dictionary. And this passed to us kids. She had a double volume dictionary – A to K and L to Z. Huge books with thousands of words. I remember wanting to learn every word. And to say every word out loud every day. I often read the dictionary too.
We often would hold the dictionary and let it fall open to a page, and with our eyes closed, we would point to a word on the page. This word would describe ourselves or each other – depending on who we chose. More often that not, the result was apt.
Or we would use the dictionary to prove a word existed when playing Scrabble. More often than not, proof was not found.
But mainly, the dictionary was used to learn new words – always three instead of one.